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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Special Edition

Howard Keel stars in this fun 1954 artifact from the heyday of the MGM musical as jovial frontier woodsman Adam Pontipee, who rolls into town hunting for a wife to help him settle the rough and untamed Oregon territory. Although many townsfolk balk at Adam's confident presumption that one of their local girls would be willing to drop all, marry a stranger, and leave for the hinterlands that very day, the tough and pretty Milly (June Powell) does just that, agreeing to wed Adam after she finishes her day's chores. With a stubborn sense of destiny and romance, Milly deflects her family's protests and becomes Adam's wife, but as with most impetuous lovefool gestures, there's a surprise waiting for her at the homestead: Adam's six younger brothers, every one of them rough and uncouth, and desperately in need of a woman's touch themselves. So Milly teaches the Pontipee bachelors the etiquette of proper courting, but when they set their minds on six young and pretty things from town, the impatient Adam suggests a more expedient approach to hitching his brothers that, despite the federal crime involved, ends up as unsuspensefully happy as the movie's title reveals. MGM set the gold standard for Hollywood musicals between 1930 and 1960, spewing out classics like The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), On The Town (1949), and An American In Paris (1951), leading up to the pinnacle in 1952 with Singin' In The Rain. In that company, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers comes up wanting, with just as many undistinguished numbers as it has memorable songs, and not much in the way of pioneering vision (unless you count the buckskin wardrobe). Still, it's an altogether amiable picture, directed by Stanley Donen on a relatively low budget but with bright enthusiasm and a strong spirit. Keel masterfully sells the ridiculous concept of a crooning man's man, and Michael Kidd's inspired choreography also seamlessly combines the unlikely mix of material and music, including a rousing, showstopping "barn raising" dance that is amongst MGM's very best set pieces. The standout songs are immediately memorable and infectious, beginning with Keel's opening "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," and including Powell's instructive "Goin' Courtin'" and Keel's witty, rallying "Sobbin' Women." Surely some contemporary viewers will be aghast at Seven Brides' unabashed pre-feminist context ("Sobbin' Women," after all, is a play on Plutarch's The Rape of the Sabine Women), which is plainly laid out in Keel's opening number as he sizes up the townswomen like he would livestock, but that unironic and cheerful anachronism is also part of the movie's charm. Also with Russ Tamblyn, as Gideon Pontipee, and a young Julie Newmar (as Julie Newmeyer) as one of the local girls. Warner's two-disc Special Edition of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (marking its third release on DVD) presents two different versions on the film. Disc One includes the familiar 2.55:1 CinemaScope version of the film (in a colorful anamorphic transfer with some wear from the source), while Disc Two presents an alternate 1.77:1 version of the film (also anamorphic), which, Donen explains, was shot in the event that some theaters were not equipped for the new CinemaScope technology. And the difference is not just in the framing: each scene was shot with different takes in each aspect ratio, resulting in two different, and yet nearly identical, movies. For all that trouble, the 1.77:1 version of the film was never exhibited theatrically, even though it does allow for more head-and-foot room during some of the dance sequences. Both versions are presented with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One includes a fairly lethargic commentary by Donen, plus trailers for other Donen musicals. Disc Two includes a 50-minute featurette looking back at Seven Brides, hosted by Keel and featuring interviews with Donen, Powell, Kidd, and more; newsreel footage of the film's premiere and MGM's 30th Anniversary celebration; and a short film of MGM's orchestra playing selections from their greatest musicals. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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